California's first driverless buses started rolling this month on the streets of San Ramon, about 30 miles outside San Francisco. The electric shuttle can carry 12 people – six sitting and six standing. And unlike most autonomous vehicles being tested in America, there's no human sitting in the driver's seat to grab the wheel or hit the brakes if the technology fails.
Instead, the low-speed, electric shuttle bus in San Ramon has no driver, no steering wheel and no brake pedal, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone. It's the first completely driverless vehicle licensed to operate on public roads in California.
This comes asMonday after one was involved in the first fatal accident with a pedestrian overnight in Tempe, Arizona.
For Randy Iwasaki, the head of the county transportation authority, the San Ramon experiment is an exciting ride indeed.
"This is my first time... after working for months trying to get a license to be on a public street. This is pretty cool," Iwasaki said as he and Blackstone cruised along in the back seat. The East Bay Times reports that when testing is complete later this year, two of the shuttles will be used to ferry workers along a pre-set route at a large office park.
San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson sees autonomous shuttles as a solution to both traffic jams and parking problems, since fewer people will need cars.
"Every parking spot here cost you X amount of dollars to build or even more expensive to build the parking garages, $70,000 per parking spot. That's huge," Clarkson said.
"We're going to do less major infrastructure improvements, widening freeways and those things that really kind of mess up traffic for a long time," Iwasaki said.
Blackstone put the driverless shuttle to the test, stepping out right in front of it. The vehicle's sensors detected him and it stopped.
City officials are hoping the shuttle will be a hit when testing is finished and residents can start riding it.